<< mundial
Katja Diefenbach 09/2002
New Angels
On the Happiness of Being Communist: Multitude in Empire

"In fact, even according to a Talmudic legend, the angels are created - new ones in countless multitudes every moment - so that once they have sung their hymn to God, they stop and vanish into nothingness."
(Walter Benjamin, Announcement of the journal: Angelus Novus[1])

Multitude is a new angel, or better yet the return of the "angel of history" in an extremely modified, positivized form; a wholly secularized and subjective angel, a Christian worker-angel, not only prophesying the advent of a future happy freedom, but also inexorably on the way into the sun, "in the blinding light of clear day".[2] The angel of Empire, which Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have given the name Multitude, stands for a theoretical perspective, in which the messianic and the political no longer point in different directions. This positive convergence, which results in a messianic Operaism - Multitude is the good, and Multitude will come - is probably what causes a sense of uneasiness with this concept, even though it does command respect, on the other hand, that the authors have insisted on the possibility of communism, despite so many victories of capitalism, against the left-wing officials of sad passions. The book touches on the rarely raised question of political being: Why do people carry on with all those damned actions, demos and endless discussions? Do they believe in what they are doing? Are they not uncomfortable with being the ones always standing there with too much, too much conviction, too many words? Are they really waiting for a radical change? Or do they just need something to do, the soothingness of a recognition, and they just happened to choose politics as their field of distinction, discipline and home? This question is answered in "Empire" with the militant religiosity of those who believe: multitude as the form in which resistive subjectivity emerges in advanced capitalism, is spontaneously communist. It is beatified through productivity in poverty, because "biopower and communism, cooperation and revolution remain together in love, simplicity and also in innocence".[3] Wow. Unbelievably religious, unbelievably fervent.

With Benjamin, who described the most beautiful encounters between Marxism and angels, the messianic points in a different direction from the political. At certain moments, the political intersects the contrary movement of messianism, which follows the mysticism of the coming savior, and undergoes a power, with which it heads for the lightness of happiness, that cannot be programmed in terms of philosophy of history.[4] In the political, the promise of happiness is a reminder not to confuse the rationality of progress, the development of productive forces and discipline with emancipation. This condition of happiness in politics, the messianic without messianism, promises that in the midst of the catastrophe that all goes on as before, a different time of battle could suddenly be blown out of it. For Benjamin, the "Angel of History"[5] is the messenger of this actuality. He stands between catastrophe and progress and thus also for the knowledge that there is a connection between the two, which persists in the sad trick of modernization, in the successful failure of battles. What the angel stands for is that this condition is not a closed totality. It is a trace that refers to the line of Jewish messianism in leftist thinking, a trace that Ágnes Heller, for example, ran into most intensively in 1968:

"My whole way of living, not only my belief, was waiting. To travel to Hachschara[6] or to join the Communist Party was not messianic per se, but only linked with messianic ideas. In 1968, though, we were faced with the definitive challenge of acting here and now in our own life as though the messiah were already here. Anticipation as a way of living, not as belief, that was true messianism."[7]

This long line of messianic anticipation imported into the political is represented in "Empire" by Christian teachers of the church, by Augustine and his idea of the City of God, in which nomadic aliens work together to create a common world, or by Saint Francis of Assisi, who decided to live among the poor in the 13th century, at the beginning of early trade capitalism. The fact that Negri and Hardt skip over the Jewish trace of the messianic without messianism, replacing it with Christian figures and images like the secular celebration of Pentecost, the immanent pilgrimage or the incarnation of the multitude, is all the more astonishing, because the theoretical universalization of Jewish experience in post-structuralist thinking, to which they repeatedly allude in their distance to dialectics, teleology and the philosophy of history , deals with the figure of Exodus. For Negri and Hardt, exodus is the multitude's main form of expression: social exodus from the discipline of Fordism and socialism, economic exodus from the impoverished zones of the world market, anthropological exodus from the construction of the gendered, human body. Maurice Blanchot wrote about the universalization of the Exodus as Jewish experience in 1969:

"If Judaism is destined to take on meaning for us, it is indeed by showing that, at whatever time, one must be ready to set out, because to go out (to step outside) is the exigency from which one cannot escape if one wants to maintain the possibility of a just relation. The exigency of uprooting; the affirmation of nomadic truth. Each time we are given a sign from Jewish man in history, it is through the call to set out."[8]

Although Negri and Hardt's description of the multitude as flexible and deserting borders almost painfully on nomadism kitsch, they have turned the multitude into a Christian angel that has become flesh and subject. In this way, the angel no longer expresses a virtuality of time, still promising change in the face of catastrophe, but rather a virtuality of the subject. The angel has been unequivocated as the subject of production. His universal representative on earth is the post-proletarian subaltern, the globalized poor person that has left the factory, the "free-as-a-bird" / "outlawed" (in German: vogelfrei) of the imperial capitalist world:

"The Vogelfrei is an angel or an intractable demon. And here, after so many attempts to transform the poor into proletarians and proletarians into a liberation army [...], once again in postmodernity emerges in the blinding light of clear day the multitude, the common name of the poor. [...] the poor, every poor person, the multitude of poor people, have eaten up and digested the multitude of proletarians. By that fact itself the poor have become productive."[9]

This positive view of the angel, this class struggle in angel theory, indicates a fundamental theoretical paradox in "Empire". It consists in the way in which the book undertakes the thoroughly fascinating attempt to bring together Marxism, post-structuralism and an analysis of feminist economic theory, according to which the so-called reproductive activities are also productive, at a new level. Negri and Hardt carry out three basic operations on all the figures of post-structuralism: positivization, productivization and subjectification - specifically outside the realm of understanding positivity and productivity as the distinguishing characteristics of a power that does not oppress the conditions, but rather founds them (Foucault)[10], or as distinguishing characteristics of a productive desiring, expressing the constitutive line of the historical (Deleuze/Guattari)[11].

In response to the fundamental questions of critical social theory: What is constitutive? Why does something happen? Why does history take place?, Negri and Hardt answer: because the multitude fights. It is the legacy of Operaism that over-codes their theory, the old slogan of the workers that produce the crisis, to which capital reacts with modernization strategies. In this way, the entire book is torn by the paradox of introducing remainders of a concentration on productive force and labor and the notion of the autonomy of a mass expanded into a class, into an a-subjective, contingent thinking of Marxist or capitalism-theoretical post-structuralism. Reading the book, one constantly wants to defend it against its authors, to make use of it against its operaistic gesture, and to radically delete the figure of autonomy from it. For multitude is either singular, as Negri and Hardt write in many places, or it is autonomous. Singular means that a specific relation between things and persons in a societal situation is materialized in it, a specific concatenation between the economical, the machinic, the sexual, the gendered and the psychical, which is constituted through the motion of desiring, in which social power is erected, institutionalized and discursified. The potential for emancipatory change, that which Negri and Hardt call proto-communism, accumulates in the way of this concatenation and not in the subject. The accessibility of knowledge about production procedures, the self-organized desertion from the boredom of a standardized life and the misery of the dried out deserts of the capitalist world market, the desire to go beyond the I-other world order on both a large and a small scale, is a progressive social condition that has nothing to do with autonomy.

This condition is open to reintegration, to a functional mobilization in an extremely differentiated capitalism that also exploits affects and feelings as human resources, as the productivity of style, of motivation, of the United Colors survival culture. For Negri and Hardt, though, multitude, which becomes visible in migration and immaterial labor, is autonomous and thus potentially eludes domination. It remains undamaged by the procedures of domination. Imperial power is only effective through encountering the resistance of the mass and being "driven by the rebound from the resistance of the multitude against imperial power."[12]. However, this is operaistic idealism that seeks to cleanse advanced subjectification in capitalism from power, dreaming of a clean, happy, proto-communist subjectivity in contrast to a power external to it, which only functions negatively and repressively.

This form of argumentation takes the notion of the diagrammatic effectivity of power found with Foucault and Deleuze in a misleading direction. The analysis that power is a diagrammatic arithmetic that remains external to the condition it produces, does not mean that power remains left out in the cold with respect to the social practices of subjects, not even the emancipatory ones. Instead, this analysis deals with describing a distinction between power on the one hand and knowledge/institution on the other. The diagram of power founds a relationship of the non-related. It conjoins the different lines of development of knowledge (medicine, psychology, criminal law, pedagogy, etc.) and the institution (clinic, psychiatry, prison, school, etc.). Power is the abstract line conjoining the two others into a dispositive. This is the intention of theses, to which Negri and Hardt refer in "Empire", such as: power is a stratagem that remains external to the dispositives. The dispositive itself, however, permeates subjectification and all the forms of social expression and constitutes the subject as an effect of power.[13]

A theory is as good as what you can do with it. And quite a lot can be done with the theory of Empire, if the Christian impetus, the cheerful Operaism, the shifting of the emancipatory to an autonomous subjectivity are peeled off again. The concept of multitude, for example, in comparison with Slavoj Zizek's Neo-Leninism, is marked by the political will never to fall back again behind the critique of the avant-garde, of the cadre, of deputation and representation. In addition, with "Empire" one enters an analytical universe that theorizes the further development of capitalist socialization beyond the realm of economism at an international level. This development is determined by an extension of the biopower regulation, by a real subsumption of societies under capital, and the transition from a disciplinary to a control society. The concept of biopower[14] is used to attempt to describe life science as a governmental strategy. Since the 17th century, power has turned to the administration of life at two levels, that of the body of the population (demography, urbanism, resources-inhabitants calculations, tables of wealth, etc.) and that of the individual body, which is mobilized and standardized in the institutions of humanism (clinic, school, army, etc.) This development has coexisted from the beginning with the emergence of capitalism. In the process of real subsumption anticipated by Marx[15], it is a matter of how the movement of capital eats its way through bodies, affects, the sociality of societies and the entire territory of the world. Marx himself already emphasized the potency of unbounded commodities production to universalize, break open prejudices, break down national restraints and expand production forces and needs in infinitum. The theory of Empire attempts to describe an international formation of capital that no longer recognizes any non-capitalist outside, into which it has first colonially, then imperialistically expanded. As the external boundaries are reached, the internal boundaries become more flexible. The walls of the great systems of imprisonment, from the factory to the family, are crumbling under the double assault of revolts and economization. Control society[16] means that the discipline of the school or the family goes walkabout, and the subjects become pupils outside the school, workers outside the factory, prisoners outside the prison.

In "Empire" Negri and Hardt grant multitude the capability of productively responding to all these transformations, because they see them as the result of the struggle of the subjects against the institutions and against exploitation - in the sense that the revolts against the factory discipline led to the dispersion of the factory over the entire plane of the societal and international territory. For them, the effrontery of so-called neo-liberalism becomes the strength of a subjectivity that has appropriated the knowledge of production, the organization of the societal, the cooperation of life and feelings.

In this way, they have only descriptively stated the problem, the catastrophe of society stumbling from modernization to modernization, but without being able to explain it. They simply append it to their optimistic Operaism - an addition of that which is evident. Their theoretical leapfrog action is found in their division of the world into a negative imperial government and a positive multitude. Their messianic analysis of the possible future of immaterial labor and autonomous migration skips too lightly over the political condition of post-Fordist subjects that vote for Schill, FPÖ or Forza Italia. It gives too little weight to the dynamic of transformation, with which Fordism ended up in a crisis in formerly colonized states, without ever really becoming established there. As though it were sufficient to name the violence of Empire, only to return to the pathos of the communist multitude. While the projects of rising industrialization, of import substitution, the dictatorships of nation-state developments to Fordism - followed by the real-socialist states - are integrated into a capitalist Empire, a proto-communist multitude that has productively appropriated the tools and knowledge of cooperation only rarely becomes visible in the North and South, in the huge poverty economies, in homeworking and in the mass misery of self-entrepreneurship. What is revealed instead is the basis for the connection that the neo-liberal self-entrepreneurship of poor and rich can enter into with racist, political-religious and ethnic ideologies. This is what is missing in the thinking of Empire: the Non-Multitude.


Translated by Aileen Derieg

[1] Walter Benjamin, Ankündigung der Zeitschrift: Angelus Novus, in: Angelus Novus, Ausgewählte Schriften 2, Surkamp, Frankfurt/M. 1988, 374

[2] Michal Hardt/Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge/London, 2000, 158

[3] op.cit., p. 413

[4] Cf. Walter Benjamin, Theologisch-politisches Fragment, in: Illuninationen, Ausgewählte Schriften 1, Surkamp, Frankfurt/M. 1977, 262.

[5] Cf. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in: Illuminationen, op.cit., 255.

[6] Training, collective preparation for life in Palestine/Israel.

[7] Ágnes Heller, Der Affe auf dem Fahrrad. Eine Lebensgeschichte bearbeitet von János Kóbányai, Philo, Berlin 1999, 420.

[8] Maurice Blanchot, Jude sein, in: Das Unzerstörbare, Ein unendliches Gespräch über Sprache, Literatur und Existenz, Hanser, Munich/Vienna 1991, 184f.

[9] Hardt/Negri, op.cit., p.158.

[10] cf. e.g. Michel Foucault, Recht der Souveränität/Mechanismus der Disziplin, in: ibid., Dispositive der Macht. Über Sexualität, Wissen und Wahrheit, Merve, Berlin 1978, 75-95.

[11] cf. e.g. Gilles Deleuze, Lust und Begehren, Merve, Berlin 1996, 14-39.

[12] Hardt/Negri, op.cit., 360

[13] cf. Gilles Deleuze, Die Strategien oder das Nicht-Geschichtete: Das Denken des Außen (Macht), in: ibid., Foucault, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M. 1992, 99-130.

[14] cf. Michel Foucault, Recht über den Tod und Macht zum Leben, in: Der Wille zum Wissen. Sexualität und Wahreit 1, 159-190.

[15] cf. Karl Marx, Resultate des unmittelbaren Produktionsprozesses, Neue Kritik, Frankfurt/M. 1969, 45-64.

[16] cf. Gilles Deleuze, Postskriptum über die Kontrollgesellschaften, in: ibid., Unterhandlungen, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/m. 1993, 254-262.



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